India Outlines New Carrier Ambitions

 - May 7, 2015, 9:21 AM
The U.S. has offered the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) to India, for its second indigenous aircraft carrier. (Photo: General Atomics)

The Indian Navy will present a report on the configuration options for the second indigenous Indian aircraft carrier (IAC-2) to the Ministry of Defense next month. At a recent seminar on the country’s naval aviation, it became clear that the vessel will likely be in the 65,000-ton class. It could be equipped exclusively with American aircraft or with a combination that might include the naval version of the French Rafale fighter. “The fighters must be transformational. We must decide on the aircraft first, and this choice must determine the design of the carrier and its deck,” said an official.

“We must plan for the future blue water navy that will be dependent on air power,” said former Chief of Naval Staff Arun Prakash. “A focus is required…new hardware is important [or] it will be a double jeopardy…we cannot remain hostage to an unreliable source of supply.” India’s navy now has two ski-jump carriers: the INS Vikramaditya, a former Russian ship; and the INS Vikrant, the first indigenous carrier (IAC-1) and now in an advanced stage of construction. Both are equipped with Russian aircraft: MiG-29K combat jets and Kamov Ka-31 AEW helicopters.

The IAC-2 report will describe type, tonnage, propulsion and aircraft options, said Chief of Navy Robin K. Dhowan. The options will include the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) that the U.S. recently offered to India as an alternative to a steam catapult system. Made by General Atomics, EMALS was specified as one of six "Pathfinder Projects" for coproduction and co-development, in the recent U.S.-India Defense Trade and Technology Initiative.

Depending on the cost, India could consider acquiring F-18s or the F-35B for IAC-2, Ashley Tellis, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said recently. With India having recently confirmed that the air force will acquire at least 36 Dassault Rafales, the carrier version of the French jet may come into consideration. The French Navy's flagship aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle has just completed an exercise with the Indian navy off the coast of Goa. Last month, Indian navy officials also went aboard the USS Charles Vinson off the coast of Cochin, to “ask questions about the carrier,” U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma, who accompanied them, told AIN.

Meanwhile, the stage may finally be set for the Indian Navy to acquire a squadron of four Northrop Grumman E-2D Hawkeye AEW&C aircraft. The navy uses Kamov KA-31 for its AEW missions but requires aircraft with a longer range and endurance. An RFI was issued as long ago as 2010, and Northrop Grumman has submitted a proposal for a shore-based version of the E-2D. Once the IAC-2 comes into operation, the aircraft could be modified for carrier operations in just one week, a U.S. official told AIN. But retired Vice Admiral A.K. Singh suggested that an AEW version of the V-22 Osprey might be the answer. “The tried and tested foreign military sales route could be considered for an early realization of the Navy’s requirements,” Ankur Gupta, manager, Ernst &Young India, told AIN.